When you think of work accommodations for someone who has a disability, you may immediately think of people with physical disabilities, such as those with mobility issues, hearing impairments or blindness. But did you know there are many possible accommodations for employees who have a mental illness?
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Equal opportunity allows a person to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment. Examples can include:
A Flexible Schedule
An accommodation might include a request to work a specific time shift. For example, if you’re more mentally alert and sharp during the day, you can ask to be scheduled for a day shift instead of a night shift. Another area of flexibility can include the timing of your commute to work. If driving or using public transportation during busy daytime traffic causes anxiety or panic attacks, you can inquire about going in for a nighttime shift when the roads are less busy. You may also be able to request that breaks during your shift be adjusted. After working for a while, you may find that one long break works better for you than several short ones.
If you have problems understanding when your supervisor gives you instructions, it’s a good idea to share what communication style works best for you. If you retain written instructions better than verbal, ask your boss to give instructions by email or on paper. This could make a big difference in your everyday tasks. Or, if you are in a meeting but the presenter often speaks very quickly, have a conversation with your supervisor and ask if you can record meetings. This allows you to listen later at your own pace and take notes.
A Private Workspace
Working in a noisy, open area can make it hard to concentrate. If you’re unable to focus on your work, ask about a quiet workspace. There might be a conference room that’s not in use or a quiet corner to work in. Ask if there is an available office for you to work in that will create a calm environment. If you already have an office, but there’s an “open door” policy and noise in the hallway, ask if you can close your door. You could also ask for permission to wear noise-cancelling headphones.
A Job Coach
A job coach is someone who can be with you at work to help you learn the responsibilities of the job, explore other helpful accommodations and reduce anxiety. This person can closely monitor your progress and help along the way as you learn tasks and start doing projects with co-workers. A job coach can even join you at meetings to make sure you understand the main points and complete any work you’re assigned. This one-on-one help at work can have a positive impact on your job performance and confidence. As with any accommodation, your employer will review the approval for a job coach on a case-by-case basis.
How Can I Request Reasonable Accommodations?
In order to receive an accommodation, you’ll need to discuss your disability with your employer, but talking about disclosure doesn’t have to be difficult. If you have a mental health condition and want to work, knowing your symptoms will help you communicate your needs.
To have a productive discussion with your employer or future employer, think about:
- The part(s) of your job you’re having difficulty with due to your mental illness.
- How your disability makes it difficult for you to perform these tasks.
- Your recommendations for potential solutions.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause the employer significant difficulty or expense. When you decide to disclose your disability to your employer, keep it simple. You don’t have to explain every detail. You can talk to your supervisor, HR representative or ADA coordinator and also put your request in writing to document your request.
If you have additional concerns about mental health support and maintaining employment while coping with mental illness, find out if your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP) that allows you access to mental health professionals and counseling. EAPs also offer tools for identifying triggers, tips for stress management and general coping skills. EAPs are usually offered at no cost to you as the employee, however, there may be a limited number of sessions available.
Source: Ticket to Work